The most immediate political news is now from Iowa where
in less that three weeks the Democratic and Republican
campaigns for president formally begin.
As these campaigns head into Stage Two of the contest, some
of the stereotypes that emerged in Stage One seem to be under
In Stage One, one figure in each party dominated the news and
the polls. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has been the
constant frontrunner since the cycle began. The liberal field
only grew to five, and two of those have dropped out. When
Vice President Joe Biden decided not to run, there was a
general agreement among pundits and experts that the race
was over. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, openly a socialist,
was considered unnominatable for a general election. In fact,
Mr. Sanders trailed Mrs. Clinton in Iowa, and led her only in
neighboring New Hampshire. A third remaining candidate,
former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley trailed both of
them in low single digits, clearly failing to interest
Democrats across the country.
Someone has apparently not told the Democratic grass roots
about the pundits’ conclusion. Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers
have fallen precipitously in Iowa, New Hampshire and across
the country. In spite of a financial advantage, a huge national
organization, and overwhelming name recognition, the former
first lady has not excited her party’s voters. Although Mr.
Sanders’ resume is thin compared to hers, and his stated views
notably to her left, the 75 year-old Sanders has shown
remarkable campaign energy and appeal to his party’s grass
roots, especially the young. He is now expected to win New
Hampshire, but was not expected to win in Iowa. New polls
show Mr. Sanders now leading or virtually tied in Iowa, and
surging. The question remains, however, whether his supporters
will turn out on caucus night, especially if the weather is very
cold (as it has often been in the past). Young voters historically
also do not turn out in the numbers that older voters do. Polling
for a caucus is also more problematic than it is for a primary, so
polls must be regarded skeptically until just before the voting.
Nevertheless, there is some unmistakeable energy emanating
from the Sanders effort, an energy not evident yet in the Clinton
On the Republican side, there is also much new volatility.
Donald Trump has dominated the headlines and the polls for
months, but very recent polling indicate the rise of some of the
other candidates. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has led in most Iowa
polls of late, but Trump remains close behind. Perhaps the most
interesting new developments, however, are some late surges
by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Florida Senator
Marco Rubio, especially in New Hampshire. There is also a
reported new surges for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
whose campaign had been faltering, and for Ohio Governor
John Kasich. Preoccupied with Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, most
media attention has generally passed over these late surges. The
campaigns of Ben Carson (briefly the frontrunner), Kentucky
Senator Rand Paul, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee,
and Carly Fiorina seemed to be falling far behind.
The dispositive story in Iowa (and a few days later in New
Hampshire) will be the perennial one of turnout. The hoop-la
of stage one, the early debates, and the sensational headlines,
will now be overtaken by organization and get-out-the-vote
efforts ---and what actual voters really think about the
candidates. Iowa has not often predicted the eventual winner,
but this is clearly an exceptional cycle, and it could set into
motion an extraordinary and unpredictable national campaign
leading to Election Day next November.
We will soon find out if the media-run Stage One was an
omen or an illusion.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.